Archer, a young man trained from birth to become the ultimate assassin has been picked by his Christian religious cult out of all children to go out and slaughter the beast. Archer tries his very hard to do so, but the beast turns out to be Armstrong an immortal man with super strength who is at the center of a huge conspiracy to kill him and assemble pieces of an old technological artifact capable of giving immortal life to its owner. Will Archer turn against his beliefs and his cult or will he befriend the man he was sworn to murder?
I was expecting to hate Archer and Armstrong #1 volume 2 from the new Valiant Comics. I haven’t really been impressed with their reboots so far and I used to be a big fan of the Barry Windsor-Smith series from 1993 until the new team with Mike Vosburg took over and the series just didn’t click with me anymore.
Windsor-Smith created a real buddy bromance book that had a lot of similarity to Tintin and Captain Haddock. The series was very humorous and the artwork intense and detailed. However, I will add that he had a lot of visual gay undertones and imagery inserted throughout the series and illustrations making me wonder if he had a subliminal message to pass. There were lots of phallic symbols and very clear penis shapes in his drawings. I'll let others figure out what Barry Windsor-Smith was up to.
So opening the new series by Fred Van Lente and Clayton Henry was a challenge for me. The cover with the pencil rendering coloured over didn’t do it for me. But once inside, visually, I was somewhat satisfied. Sure this was not Windsor-Smith level of illustrations. Instead the new Valiant went for a strong storyteller with a barely distinctive art style. If I have a misgiving, it’s that Armstrong just doesn’t look like a wino to me. He’s too clean. His beard too well groomed. Archer has been updated a bit. He wears a T-Shirt now instead of a purple drapes. But his looks have remained mostly the same. What Henry does well are action scenes. He knows how to telegraph a fight and portray cool moves. On that front he wins. The series is in good capable hands.
Van Lente has updated the original story from the old Valiant and modified the characters’ origins. Archer still has a natural ability to aim stuff, but now, he seems to also have a photographic memory allowing him to remember any moves he sees. Instead of learning his trades from Buddhist monks – they are overrated after all, he learned his tricks from his parents and his Biblical school along with many other orphans. His parents are still weirdoes but instead of being child molesters and killers – perhaps because of more sensitive audiences, they are just plain Christian extremists nut jobs who run a Christian-themed amusement park.
Armstrong gains his immortality differently than previously. Here, there’s a technological artifact that gives him his powers and are at the source of the conflict in this story. He’s still a wino, which is good and of course is very laid back. I like that.
The series plays with popular conspiracy theories, cults and occult societies we’ve all heard from and dumps them together as the one evil trying to wipe out Armstrong. I’m not sure how that fits in with the rest of the Valiant universe though. Also, I found the motivation of Archer's parents to send him after Armstrong to be very weak. It wasn't logical at all and was just meant to put Archer on the hunt for Armstrong as a plot device. But the explanation as to why Archer was expendable was not provided. The first issue was fun enough to make me dispel some of my doubts about the reboot, but it still has to convince me that it will rise up to be the best bromance comic book of its generation, the same way its first incarnation was for its time.